Every year around this time, I begin to hoard Meyer lemons. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a backyard citrus tree, Meyer lemons start appearing in stores in January. You’ll continue to see them in February, and maybe even early March, but one day, all of a sudden, they’ll be gone, and you’ll have to wait a whole year to see them again. Hence, I’ve decided that the only sane thing to do is to buy them every time I see them, and preserve them in every which way I can think of.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, every year around this time, winter starts to take it’s toll on me. One of my saving graces is the fact that citrus fruits are in season, and perhaps most notably, Meyer lemons. I don’t know how I’d make it through these colder months without something brighter and less wintery than, say, a parsnip. Meyer lemons are sweeter and thinner-skinned than a normal lemon, and are scented with notes of orange blossom and tangerine. The aroma alone is enough to shake me from my winter doldrums, moving me to a warmer place.
Ever since our visit to Morocco this past summer, I’ve wanted to make preserved lemons. Our first night in Casablanca, when every smell and color seemed brand new, the mister and I, and two very good friends shared a meal in the middle of the garden-surrounded patio of a Moroccan restaurant. Looking through the menu, I tried to decode the few French culinary words I knew from cooking shows and Julia Childs’ cookbooks. With Karissa’s help (the only French speaker in the bunch), I finally decided on the chicken tagine, which arrived falling off the bone tender, perfectly seasoned, and braised with salty tart perserved lemons and green and black Moroccan olives.
In formulating an action plan on how to use as many Meyer lemons as possible before they disappeared, I thought back to that first night in Morocco, and that intensely flavored chicken tagine. In my search for a recipe for preserved lemons, I came across Paula Wolfert’s method on Epicurious. Wolfert is the go-to woman for authentic Moroccan cooking. In her notes, she states that Meyer lemons are closer in taste to the lemons found in Morocco, and work the best for preserving. Perfect.
My lemons are in process right now. So far, 2 jars for me and one for a Karissa sit on my counter top, adding a little sunshine to my dreary and sometimes whiny winter temperament. I can’t vouch for their success yet, but wanted to share the recipe with you while Meyer lemon season is still in full swing. In 30 days, we should be making tagines, tossing bright little slivers with vegetables, and making preserved lemon aioli, among other concoctions. The moment is fleeting, and the time is now! Hoard some Meyer lemons with me, before it’s too late!
- 5 organic meyer lemons, plus
- freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice from about 3 lemons, as needed (do not use processed lemon juice here)
- ¼ cup kosher salt, more if desired
- Equipment needed: a 1-pint mason jar and lid for each batch of lemons
- For the Safi spice mixture (optional):
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 5 to 6 coriander seeds
- 3 to 4 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- Sterilize the mason jar by placing it upside down in a steamer basket, and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the jar from the steamer with tongs, and set it sideways on a clean folded kitchen towel to dry. Boil the lid for 5 minutes, and remove it to a towel to dry.
- Wash the lemons thoroughly and dry them.
- Quarter the lemons from the top leaving ½ inch of the bottoms of the lemons intact. Sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.
- Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding the remaining salt, and spices (if using) in between the layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. Add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover the lemons (I juiced about 3 extra lemons). Leave some air space before closing the jar. After 2 to 3 days, add extra lemon juice to cover the lemons if needed.
- Allow the jars to sit in a warm place for at least 30 days before using, shaking once a day to distribute the salt and juices. At this point, refrigerate and use as needed--the lemons will keep for up to a year.